Newsflash! I just saw “The Little Foxes” for a second time and had an incredible theatrical experience all over again. This time I saw Laura Linney in the leading role of the much-maligned, anti-heroine Regina Giddens, and in Linney’s lustrous hands, she is evil no more. She is simply magnificent.
Because Laura Linney plays this part startlingly, with love.
You feel she loves her dying husband (Richard Thomas, never better) and is torn apart by his chronic illness and approaching demise, and is preyed upon by her two evil brothers (Michael McKean and Darren Goldstein) in ways that have twisted her and embittered her, to the point where she seems like a woman who is a classic villainess. But is she? Linney’s unforgettable performance makes us question and re-see Regina in a very wonderful, complicated, modern light.
If she’s a villainess, she’s a villain that you’re rooting for. And in her own way, she wins.
I think playwright Lillian Hellman has written someone much more complex than originally thought. Laura Linney’s Regina is a valiant, strong woman, who has had her heart broken and has to resort to her brutish ways, which is exactly how her cigar-smoking brothers are treating her She replicates them as the play’s action progresses, words and acts that she is not really comfortable with. But if she has to do them and say them, she will. Men behave this way. Why can’t she?
Linney plays her as the ultimate Southern Belle. I kept thinking of Scarlett O’Hara, a Southern woman, who has to be a monster to survive the Civil War. Linney’s Regina has to become a monster to survive her family. It’s also interesting to note that both these fictional Southern female icons where written in the same decade, the 1930s by Southern women writers, Lillian Hellman and Margaret Mitchell.
At the performance I saw, the supporting cast just jumped up quite a few notches in their various roles. Caroline Stefanie Clay as the devoted, but tart Mammie of the household got tarter. Michael Benz as the dumb son of the horrid brother Horace, got dumber, and Darren Goldstein as Horace became even more frightening and brutish. Michael McKean became so oily & slimy, you’d think he was going to slip off the stage. Their cigar smoke wafting over the first few rows of the house, was as nauseating as their behavior.
Tony Nominee Richard Thomas loves and understands his difficult wife and blames himself for the bitch he now sees standing before him, as he’s dying. You really sense the rich history of their marriage. And you sense his love and deep, deep regrets that the sweet girl he married has turned into this grasping, acquisitive virago, who is capable of killing him.
And Linney’s Regina is just the ultimate Southern belle. She just smiles and smiles, and butter could melt in her mouth. She is so sweet at the start(and flirty) that her smile could give you diabetes. She’s Scarlett O’Hara at the Twelve Oaks ball, surrounded by potential suitors, all wanting her hand. Except Regina’s already married, but the way she behaves you’d never know it.
She’s voluptuous and she’s beautiful and she’s charming. But don’t cross her, or god forbid underestimate her! She’s not just a pretty plaything for her dastardly, thieving brothers to dominate and manipulate in their nefarious ways and schemes. And you cheer for her, when she gets the best of them at the end.
This production is so different for the one I saw several weeks ago, with the two female leads reversed, that I just couldn’t believe it. With this masterful, magnificent Regina, Laura Linney becomes one of the great actresses of our time. As she lets her sick husband die in the famous staircase scene at the end, you sense her heartbreak that her life and her love for him has come to this. It’s killing her as she kills him. She lets out a moan at one point, watching him die, and facing upstage, in a green dress, the color of money, that is positively earth-shattering.
And what of her fellow co-star and switch-ee, Cynthia Nixon? After glorying in her very different Regina, I felt she really played Aunt Birdy is a two-note character, as most do. Laura Linney did not. She had many varied colors in her Birdy palette, whereas Nixon seems to fade into the background, and just stares at the incredible performance Linney is giving. Her Regina was ice-cold, and very, very intellectual. It was all in her head. The wheels were always turning.
And there seemed to be nothing between her and her sick husband. She hated him as much as she hated her hateful brothers. You understood her Regina, and it’s just as valid an interpretation as Linney’s much softer, conflicted one. But her Birdy was a disappointment to me. It was almost like Nixon was so checked out, she was phoning her Birdy in. And reverting to the classic Birdy as a stage drunk. I think she was drinking more than Linney as Birdy did. Nixon’s Birdy was a dyed-in-the-wool alcoholic. It’s almost like she wasn’t even there.
And now that the Tony Awards and the Drama Desks nominations have come out, Laura Linney is nominated, she’s clearly in the lead in the race for Best Actress. And Cynthia Nixon has been placed in the Supporting Actress category. Linney has been nominated three times (as she has for the Oscar) and never won. Nixon has two Tonys already. In a weak category, Nixon may win again. The award given for both performances, really.
Linney has got competition from Laurie Metcalf in “Doll’s House, Part Two” a play that is the last one I’m going to see this season. So we’ll see how this all plays out.
Seeing it for a second time, I noticed the cracks in the ceiling set and that the ugly, tiny chandelier was positively filthy, and the set itself seemed skewed slightly, like everything was off-kilter in this mad house, and more than a little falling apart. The furniture seemed grand, but didn’t match and the upholstery and rug were faded. Bravo to set designer Scott Pask for creating this worn-down mausoleum for these snake-pit characters to writhe in.
But what a magnificent theatrical experience to see these two astounding American actresses tackle an American classic TWICE! GO TO BOTH!!!
#Little Fozes, #Laura Linney, #Cynthia Nixon # Regina Giddens, #Scarlet O’Hara, #Lillian Helman, #Southern Belle